First goals for Hallgrimsson gives hope for the CONCACAF Gold Cup
Heimir Hallgrimsson finally saw Jamaica find the back of the net, but the head coach remains without a victory after Sunday’s 2-2 deadlock ding-dong with Mexico.
It was always going to be a tough task taking the Reggae Boyz to the cauldron of the Estadio Azteca, having never won in Mexico City. All three points were necessary for Jamaica to reach the CONCACAF Nations League finals.
Hallgrimsson, whose tenure kicked off with a pair of uninspiring home friendlies against Trinidad & Tobago without scoring, was prepared for a more tactical battle in South America.
Argentinian Diego Cocca, whose debut as head coach resulted in a shaky 2-0 success in Suriname last week, only needed a draw to progress in the competition so he wisely wanted to play it safe.
Yet the stadium was eerily silenced when a sensational seventh-minute strike from Bobby Decordova-Reid broke the deadlock. Mexico were initially stunned but soon found their feet to press forward, rewarded 10 minutes later with Orbelin Pineda’s simple tap-in.
An own goal by Edson Alvarez just past the half-hour mark restored Jamaica’s lead against the run of play, before a 20-minute enforced break because of rain and thunder.
Hirving Lozano, denied by the crossbar from distance, then beat keeper Jahmali Waite with a first-half stoppage penalty to put Mexico back in the driving seat.
Yet a dull second-half stalemate petered out with the frustrated home fans chanting the name of the substitutes and the stadium ringing with unrelenting boos.
Hallgrimsson, the former Iceland head coach, must have breathed a sigh of relief when Reid slammed his swerving 25-yarder into the top corner in the opening exchanges. This was his first goal in charge and took an astonishing 187 minutes.
This strike shocked the Mexicans, who soon cranked up the gears. Livewire Lozano on the left cut the ball across the box, which wrong-footed Amari’i Bell, for tricky no10 Orbelin Pineda to stab home from close range for a deserved 17th-minute equaliser.
Despite Jamaica looking vulnerable on the counterattacks, the hosts wasted chances to take the lead. They were punished for their lack of finishing when the Boyz retook the lead on 32 minutes. Shamar Nicholson’s corner saw Damian Lowe’s deflected header hit Alvarez’s thigh and trickle past keeper Guillermo Ochoa for a soft goal.
Torrid weather arrived shortly after this shock strike, allowing the two head coaches a 20-minute rethink session on how to tackle this tie.
Mexico returned with renewed passion to take the bull by the horns in a bid to level matters and overrun Jamaica. A clumsy challenge from Ravel Morrison on Henry Martin saw the ref point to the spot, with Lozano powering past Waite two minutes into stoppage time.
Dexter Lembikisa, the Wolves teenage right back, came to plug the gaping gaps in place of Canada-based Javain Brown to kick off the second half as the Boyz tried to frustrate the hosts.
With Mexico struggling to find any rhythm against such physical opponents after the turnaround, the supporters continuously demanded substitutions.
Cocca relented just after the hour-mark, with the introduction of winger Diego Lainez and forward Raul Jimenez as like-for-like replacements to add some much-needed bite.
Hallgrimsson, determined not to be outmanoeuvred, shuffled his pack on 66 minutes as the tie was clearly getting stale and the home supporters were being extremely vocal about the tepid tie.
Barnsley Town’s Jon Russell was handed his first taste of international football to replace Morrison in midfield, and more surprisingly Jamal Lowe was hauled off with Kemar Lawrence thrown on to create a five-player defensive line. This new set-up briefly silenced the Mexico attacks but not their fans.
Wolves striker Jimenez was booked for a clumsy tackle with 11 minutes remaining, more out of disappointment and frustration than anything else.
At the other end of the pitch the hosts wasted a couple of goal-scoring chances with Jimenez screwing his effort wide of the target and Lainez’s swerving shot denied by the crossbar.
Veteran Adrian Mariappa made a brief appearance in the heart of defence, arriving in the 83th-minute for Damion Lowe as part of Jamaica’s double substitution. Striker Cory Burke was belatedly thrown on for midfielder Daniel Johnson for a three-pronged attack in a desperate attempt to snatch maximum points.
Although the result meant Jamaica missed out on June’s lucrative Nations League final in Las Vegas, their second-place finish in Group A earned a berth in the CONCACAF Gold Cup (16 June – 16 July). This tournament will be the first measuring stick for Hallgrimsson to show his worth, following a trio of insipid displays at the helm.
JAMAICA | Waite – Bell, Pinnock, D.Lowe (Mariappa, 83), Brown (Lembikisa, 46) – J.Lowe (Lawrence, 66), Johnson (Burke, 83), Morrison (Russell, 66), Decordova-Reid – Nicholson, Bailey. Subs: Foster, Lambert, King, Stewart, Knight, Parris, Wrayton-Phillips.
Remember to share this article on Facebook and other Social Media Platforms. To submit your own articles or to advertise with us please send us an EMAIL at: [email protected]